Tuesday, December 19, 2017
At the Milonga
In my novel, Tango Lessons, the main character spends some time dancing tango in clubs. We call any place where one can dance tango a milonga. So one would never say, “I’m going to a tango club”, instead it would be “I’m going to the milonga.” Then the location could be added. “I’m going to the milonga at Canning”, for example.
I was sorry that there was not enough space within the story line of Tango Lessons to embellish the events of the milongas because it is a rich environment for anecdotes and soap operas.
The drawing in today’s post is one I did on a cocktail napkin at a milonga in Buenos Aires. People no longer smoke in tango clubs (I never thought it was possible to stop Argentines from smoking, but the air is now clean in every milonga), but when I started going there in the 1990’s I’d have to hang dresses out for days to get the smoke out of them, and a shower and hair wash was required every night.
The cartoon illustrates the competition that exists among the women, who always outnumber the men. Also, the men can get away with being old-style machistas as much as they want to be in the milonga. They may prefer to dance with younger women. Or they may limit their dances to women of a certain advanced level of dance. Usually, foreign dancers have a better chance in that regard because many Argentine women did not learn tango in a class, they learned from going to the milonga. Foreigners, then, may be a bit more sophisticated or have advanced foot work because of having good instruction.
Then, there is seating. The person who is the patron of the event has made an investment in having good dancers attend their milonga. So they put the best dancers in the front rows, and unknown or less qualified dancers will be seated at tables back from the floor, less visible. Considering that men do not walk over to a woman to ask her to dance, that visibility is very important.
Now we come to cabezeo (this is all in Tango Lessons, by the way). This is the eye contact ritual that takes place as the invitation to dance. So my lady in the cartoon has built a curtain of smoke to insure that anyone looking at her table will be able to make eye contact with her and her alone.